LITCHFIELD — Stan Labbe‘s name is known widely in Litchfield. He served on the Fire Department for about 55 years, about 40 spent as chief.

Those who do not know him through the Fire Department likely met him at Carrie Ricker School, where he spent close to 30 years as head custodian.

And now, after over half a century serving Litchfield, 76-year-old Labbe is retiring.

Labbe, who is originally from Sabattus, started working for the town of Litchfield as a member of its volunteer Fire Department in 1966.

Before that, he worked in the woods as a logger in West Minot.

He said the department back then didn’t have a large staff and it seemed like they needed a hand.

“At first I was helping out the chief and making sure the trucks were ready to go,” he said.

And then in 1984 he took on the job as chief.

“I took it temporarily,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t take anything that’s temporary.”

Since then he’s seen the department go through a lot of changes and successfully advocated for countless improvements.

“I don’t know if I could list them all,” he said. “We have better equipment now. Back then when we first started we’d never even heard of self-contained breathing apparatuses. We had rubber coats and plastic helmets.”

When Labbe departs at the end of the month, his colleague Mike Sherman will begin as the new chief. Sherman started working with Labbe close to 20 years, but first met Labbe when he was in first grade and Labbe was the head custodian at Carrie Ricker.

Outgoing Litchfield Fire Chief Stan Labbe is pictured here with his colleagues at the town’s fire station. Pictured here, from left to right, are Deputy Chief Reggie Poirier, Chief Labbe, and Deputy Chief Mike Sherman. Courtesy of the Town of Litchfield

“When Stan was there, you knew he was in charge,” said Sherman, “and he did that in a manner that was gracious to all those around him. He was never overbearing; he did it with respect and concern for the needs of the people around him. That was my first impression of him, and that impression has remained throughout the entire time I’ve known him.”

Whether Labbe was changing a light bulb at the school or responding to a major structure fire, Sherman said everyone knew he was in control of the situation.

“When you saw Mr. Labbe come in you knew the boss had arrived,” he said.

Sherman said Labbe was responsible for the modernization of the town’s Fire Department and equipment, and demonstrated to taxpayers the importance of investing in the department.

“He was able to convince the community to support that effort,” he said, “and as you know, in rural New England, people are slow to spend money,” adding that Labbe’s vision of building a successful and well-equipped Fire Department came to fruition during his time as chief.

“I saw some big changes,” said Labbe, “and it was all for the best.”

Labbe said he “doesn’t worry one bit” about Sherman taking the role of chief and that he knows he’ll do a good job.

“My advice to him is to just continue on the road we’re going,” he said, “so we have a good relationship with the town. Just stay calm, stay cool, and it’ll all come together.”

Sherman acknowledged that he has big shoes to fill and said, in many ways, that Labbe has been a mentor for him.

“The task is a big one, and I’m extremely grateful to Chief Labbe for his confidence, guidance, and the examples he set as a leader,” said Sherman.

During his time at the department Sherman has seen Labbe interact with people from all walks of life.

“One of the things that always impressed me about him was his ability to speak to one person while acknowledging their personality, attitudes, and attributes,” he said, “and turn around and speak to someone else who might be 180 degrees away from the first person. He would always make that transition while being mindful of the individual, their personality, and what was bothering them. He never once told anybody they have to change who they are. He would meet them where they were and help them with sound guidance and direction.”

Sherman said this style of leadership inspired him and many others at the station.

Litchfield Town Manager Kelly Weissenfels said the town recently held a surprise ceremony for Labbe in late May and that the outgoing chief was cited among his peers as one of the most respected fire chiefs in the state.

Labbe had no idea his family and colleagues were planning the surprise.

“My son and daughter-in-law came at about two in the afternoon and they said ‘Come on Dad, let’s take you out to eat,'” Labbe said. “I said it’s two in the afternoon; it’s too early for supper. So I go to change my clothes in the bedroom and I see my uniform all laid out for me.”

Shortly afterward, his colleagues picked him up with the rescue truck. At the station, friends and colleagues from Litchfield and surrounding communities greeted him with a standing ovation.

“I’m not a person that accepts praise,” he said. “I just want to do my job, but the Fire Department wanted to recognize me and I do appreciate it.”

At the ceremony people greeted Labbe, said goodbye, and thanked him for his service to the community. The group was under 50, due to COVID restrictions, and the event included a surprise drive through of fire trucks from surrounding towns including Wales, Gardiner, and Monmouth.

Litchfield Fire Chief Stan Labbe is pictured here at work in the late 1990s. Labbe recently announced that he would be retiring at the end of June 2021. Courtesy of the Town of Litchfield

Sherman recalled a fire at Litchfield Central School in 1994, when he was just a child, where he was inspired by the outgoing chief’s character and judgement.

The fire occurred early in the morning, and nobody was in the building. Labbe instructed a young fire fighter to direct the flow of water into a front window. As onlookers gathered on the scene, Sherman said some openly criticized the chief’s decision-making as other areas of the building appeared to need more attention.

“He ignored it,” said Sherman, “because he knew what he was doing.”

The front room turned out to be the secretary’s office, and while the school was ultimately a loss, Labbe’s decision saved all the school records.

Sherman said life and safety is the top priority, but once that is taken care of a firefighter’s secondary goal is property conservation.

“Instead of focusing on things that might’ve made him look heroic, he had the presence of mind and decisiveness to protect and save those records,” Sherman said. “That always stuck with me. Losing a school is a pretty big deal, but at least they didn’t lose all those vital records.”


The fire was determined to be arson, started by 19 year-old Jonathan Linton of Litchfield. Police said he started the fire to cover up the theft of about $300 in petty cash from the school, which was 45 years old when it burned.

Looking ahead, Labbe is planning to move to Rush Springs, Oklahoma at the end of the month to be closer to his two daughters. He has already reached out to the town’s fire chief, who told Labbe to look him up when he arrives. He said the possibility of returning to work for the Oklahoma department is definitely not off the table.

“I’ve already got some stuff lined up down there to do,” said Labbe. “I’m retiring, but I’m not retiring. I can’t completely retire.”

Sherman said that while he and the community wish Labbe the best, his departure will be difficult.

“He is my mentor in so many ways, especially as the chief,” said Sherman. “When you look at a small community, the select board and town manager may change, businesses will come and go, but through all these years the one name that’s been associated with Litchfield probably more than any other is Fire Chief Stan Labbe.”


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